Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Welcome and thank you so much for coming. It is heart warming and encouraging to see this response to our invitation. It is rather fascinating how an act that promotes hatred and xenophobia actually provokes the opposite response - a show of solidarity and community support for one another. When faced with darkness, we seek out the light- when faced with hatred we seek out connection.
I’d like to thank Tabitha Poole-Mohr, of the NAACP, first and foremost for the impetus and invitation to create this Community Forum to discuss the recent Hate Speech action at the Rutland Free Library. Tonight, let us learn together, let us grow as a community and let us create new light to dispel these shadows.
Our ancient Jewish text- the Torah- known to our Christian brothers and sisters as the Old Testament teaches that God created the world through 10 acts of speech. The first utterance recorded was this: and God Said, Let the be light; and there was light.
The second utterance: and God Said, Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water. and God made the expanse. And later: God Said Let the waters beneath the sky be gathered into one place that the dry land may appear- and it was so… And God Said let the earth bring forth every kind of living creatures, and it was so… So on and so forth, 10 acts of speech through which the world is created. Our sacred text reveals a profound truth in its very first words: Speech is a creative act. Speech has within it the power to create the kind of world we live in. And therefore it is also the case that speech has the power to destroy the world we live in.
Whether the tool is the spoken word or the written word, we understand this kind of power. As Jews we know the destructive power of speech that Hitler channeled, both in spoken form and in a written form in his hate-filled treatise Mein Kampf. As Americans we know the power of speech to inspire us to embody the better angels of our nature. We recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose words continue to lift us up, strengthening our hearts, and giving us the fuel to continue to work for civil rights and human rights.
So now, at this moment, when faced with these words and images stuffed into my community’s bookshelves, my response is to ask myself- how might I use my words to create a more kind and peaceful world? While I cannot erase the images, I can be ever mindful of the words I choose in every interaction. Before I speak, I can ask myself- will my words build this relationship or damage it? Will my words create an opening or a closing?
Will my words elevate the conversation or degrade it?
Each of us is responsible for the words we choose and thereby, the worlds we create. And We are also responsible for the words we allow to be spoken in our community. We speak often about political correctness and this term gets a lot of flack in our society these days. But why not elevate that term- why not take the politics out of it and instead consider a more fundamental concept- Kind and Considerate Speech. And when we witness hate speech, let us call it out and refuse to condone it through silence.
When Tabitha asked me, what is my response to these flyers- I say, let them be the impetus for us to recognize our shared humanity. Let them be the impetus for us to strengthen our community connections. Let them provoke us to be ever more mindful of our speech. Let them spark us to build a community of kindness.
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
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